Leading With a Steady Hand

The impact she’s had on ambulatory care nursing is enormous, yet Deena Gilland’s top priority has always been laser-focused on improving the lives of nurses and patients.

Deena Gilland, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
Deena Gilland, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN

Some people know from childhood what their life and career path will be. Deena Gilland is one of those people.

She connected the dots between nursing and her own budding desire to care for others, thanks to the books about nurses read to her by her mother.

Seeds planted, Gilland smoothly navigated her nursing path through a steady progression of education, clinical practice, and leadership.

That path led her to where she is today, a vice president and CNO at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, GA, where she oversees ambulatory care operations. She is also poised to assume the top spot on AAACN’s Board of Directors next year.

To help you get to know her better, we chatted recently with Deena Gilland, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, AAACN’s 2021-22 president-elect, to learn more about her leadership achievements, her passion for service, and how she’s navigated the challenges brought by the pandemic.

Tell us about your career path and why your chose ambulatory care.

I began my nursing career in oncology and loved everything about caring for my oncology patients. I didn’t look for leadership roles, but was asked several times along my career to step into a role, or take on a new responsibilities that led to a different position. I enjoy challenges and stepping into new territory, so always said ‘yes’ when asked.

"We are in the most challenging times I have experienced in my entire career. The stress and strain on our nurses is palpable. Supporting them is my main/only priority."

One of those asks was to move to Emory’s outpatient cancer center as the inaugural senior nursing leader. This was 2008, and at that point in my career, I had worked for 18 years as an inpatient nurse/nurse leader. I had to learn the whole new world of ambulatory nursing at that point, and I have never looked back!

In 2013, I was asked to fill what is now my current role as Vice President of Patient Services and Chief Nursing Officer of Emory Healthcare's Ambulatory Practice.

In this role, I’m responsible for the overall patient care operations and practice of the 2,000 clinical staff and 1,000 advanced practice providers (APPs) for Emory’s ambulatory care areas. This includes 200 physician practices, nine ambulatory surgery centers, and the NCCI designated Winship Cancer Institute.

For you, what are the highlights and challenges of this job?

I thoroughly enjoy working with our nursing leaders, helping them think strategically, develop their teams, and grow in their own professional development and careers.

Watching nurses become formal and informal leaders and making an impact on patients, their colleagues, and other disciplines is the best!

We are in the most challenging times I have experienced in my entire career.  The stress and strain on our nurses is palpable. I see it daily in their faces and in their voices. They are exhausted, frustrated, and extremely fatigued. Supporting them is my main/only priority.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What inspired you to become a nurse?

Some of my earliest memories are taking care of my animals and dolls. I did not have nurses in my family, but my mother read me books that had nurses in them, so I believe that was how I connected my caring for people (and animals and dolls) to the art of nursing.

Can you tell us about your education?

I received my Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Health Systems Leadership and my MSN in Healthcare Leadership from the Emory School of Nursing in Atlanta, GA. I also completed the Managing Healthcare Delivery program at the Harvard Business School.

What has AAACN done for you, personally and professionally?

"AAACN has helped me build tremendous relationships with exceptional leaders."

AAACN has been my sole source of information, resources and evidence that I have used in my position as CNO of Ambulatory Care at Emory.

When I accepted my position as Ambulatory CNO at Emory, we had very limited structure or processes in place for ambulatory care nursing in our system. I relied on AAACN and the literature from AAACN members to develop and build our entire program for our 200+ clinical sites.

Professionally, AAACN has helped me build tremendous relationships with exceptional leaders and provided me opportunity to serve on several committees, as well as the Board of Directors.

Why did you become a AAACN leader?

I find that serving and being active in an organization is the best way to grow and learn. Volunteering to work and lead helps my professional growth as well as gives back to an organization that has helped me. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

What motivates you as a human and as a nurse?

Caring for people. That includes our patients, our nurses, and other team members.

What would you tell other nurses considering ambulatory care as a specialty? 

Providing holistic care for people that includes care coordination, virtual nursing care, nurse-led clinics, and having impactful relationships with patients and families that lead to improved patient outcomes are some of what makes ambulatory care nursing so rewarding.

Also, it is an evolving and rapidly growing specialty – the core scope and standards are highlighted and emphasized throughout the NASEM Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report. It’s a great time to be an ambulatory care nurse!

Reported by Janet D’Alesandro, AAACN Media and Communications Director,
September 2021